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Summary of Judges

SUMMARY

The book of Judges presents the story of the individual tribes that became Israel from the death of Joshua to the birth of Samuel. Its title comes from the individuals called by God to be “judges” (charismatic leaders) of Israel, delivering the people from the oppression of neighboring peoples and leading them in faithful obedience to the Lord. Within the framework of the Deuteronomistic History, Judges illustrates the dire consequences of the lack of faithful leadership and paves the way for the discussion of monarchy in the books of Samuel and Kings.

SO WHAT?

Judges makes very clear that everything depends upon faithful obedience to the Lord. At the same time we see God repeatedly offering the people a fresh start. This tension between God’s justice and God’s mercy will continue throughout the Deuteronomistic History and the rest of the Old Testament. Contemporary Christians live within this tension as well.

WHERE DO I FIND IT?

Judges is the seventh book of the Old Testament. It follows Joshua and precedes Ruth.

WHO WROTE IT?

Jewish tradition identifies Samuel as the author of Judges, but there is no evidence to support this claim. Various older traditions have been gathered together and edited by the writers of the Deuteronomistic History.

WHEN WAS IT WRITTEN?

Judges contains some of the oldest material in the Bible. The “Song of Deborah” (Judges 5) may be as old as 1125 B.C.E., based upon the archaeological evidence of the destruction of Taanach and Megiddo; however, the refrains of the narrator, “In those days there was no king in Israel” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25), and mention of the captivity of Israel (18:30) and the destruction of Shiloh (18:31) indicate a much later time. Thus, Judges contains very old traditional material as well as later theological reflection and came together over a period of several centuries with a final editing in the seventh or sixth century B.C.E.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

The book of Judges is a Deuteronomic interpretation of Israel’s history from the death of Joshua up to the birth of Samuel that displays their need for a centralized government.

HOW DO I READ IT?

Judges is a collection of older stories about tribal heroes that has been structured around a recurrent formula of apostasy, oppression, and deliverance. As this formula deteriorates we are meant to see Israel’s ever-worsening decline. The editorial comment with which the book closes, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (21:25; compare 17:6; 18:1; 19:1), lifts up Israel’s failure to deal with external enemies and internal dissention. The book is thus a theological expos√© of that failure and a rationale for the centralized government of the monarchy.

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